Section 1 – Early Colonial Encounters: The seventeenth century



Indigenous peoples have continually lived in the region that would become Maine for the last 12–13,000 years, inhabiting an area that extends across northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes. For the last several thousand years, the region’s inhabitants have understood themselves as the Wabanaki, the People of the Dawnland. Hunter-gatherers, they migrated between summers on the coast and winters in the interior woodlands. After corn cultivation spread from the south, reaching as far as the Kennebec river, permanent coastal settlements were established about 1,000 years ago. Before the fatal epidemics that followed Europeans into the region, resulting in the “Great Dying” of 1616–19, Maine was home to more than 20,000 Wabanaki.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the French and English began to think about creating permanent bases and settlements in the region, they also began to make maps of the region, often recording a vibrant landscape occupied by the Wabanaki. Their villages, fields, and fishing sites at the resource-rich mouths of the Saco (Chouacoit) and Kennebec (quinibequy) rivers are clearly marked on detailed plans drawn by the French voyager Samuel de Champlain in 1605 [item 1]; Marc Lescarbot’s depiction of multiple longhouses on his 1607 map indicated the many coastal villages [2]. Lescarbot also recorded the names of the Wabanaki, as the French heard and wrote them: Etchemins east of the Kennebec (Kinibecki), Armouchiquois to the west. John Smith also recorded Wabanaki villages during his 1614 trading voyage, although he would replace them with English placenames in his published map [3].

Regional maps like 2 and 3 were crucial to the imagining of the region by English and French monarchs and their granting of rights to settler colonists who wished to fish, trade, and cultivate the land “claimed” by the European powers. The grants’ boundaries were defined by key features on the maps and colonists retained their names, such as the River St. John (R S Jean) [2]. Otherwise Europeans used names for geographical features that they learned from the Wabanaki. Lescarbot’s Norumbega [2] referenced a century-old European myth that was irrelevant to both Wabanaki and later colonists and so never displaced Penobscot.

English-Wabanaki interactions were fraught with miscommunication and conflict, especially as English encroachment on native lands expanded throughout the seventeenth century. Europeans consistently misconstrued native references to routes and villages as indicating complicated features, like the huge, island-filled lake (Lake Winnipesaukee) in the anonymous manuscript map of New England [4]. Fear of the interior Wabanaki was especially strong in times of war. William Hubbard mapped native raids and counterattacks during what later became known as King Philip’s War (1675–76) [5]. The numbers on the map reference a summary list of conflicts in his published account of the war. The character of the still ongoing conflict in northern New England, when Hubbard made his map in 1677, is symbolized by two native figures, guns over their shoulders, leaving the northern wooded interior [5a].

Samuel de Champlain
“qui ni be quy” (Mouth of the Kennebec River) and “Chouacoit R” (Mouth of the Saco River), from Champlain’s Les Voyages du Sieur de Champlain xaintongeois (Paris, 1613), 64 and 70.

Woodcut and letter press, each leaf 22 × 15 cm
Loan from a Private Collection

Marc Lescarbot
“Figvre de la terre nevve, grande riviere de Canada, et côtes de l’ocean en la nouvelle France,” in Histoire de la novvelle France, contenant les navigations, découvertes, & habitations faites par les François és Indes occidentales & nouvelle France (Paris: Jean Millot, 1607).

Woodcut, 15 × 23 cm
Osher Collection

John Smith
New England, the most remarqueable parts thus named, from Jodocus Hondius, Historia mundi, or,  Mercators atlas, trans. William Saltonstall (London, 1637).

Copper engraving, 30 × 35.5 cm
Smith Collection

Placenames Recorded by John Smith

John Smith recorded a number of placenames in his Description of New England (1616), based on his rapid voyage in 1614 down the coast from Mt. Desert to Cape Cod, trying to find a village that had not already sold its stock of furs to English and French traders. However, when he published his map to promote a new colonial effort, he replaced the placenames with English ones, none of which would be adopted for the Maine area [3]. The original names for those in the land now known as Maine on his map are as follows, starting at the map’s eastern edge:



















The Base





Shooters hill

Aucociscos [hill]

Willowby’s Iles





Hoghton’s Iles





Barties Iles



Snodon hill


S. Johns towne





Otherwise unlocated groups in the mid-coast Maine region:
Masherosqueck, Moshoquen, Nassaque, Paghhuntanuck, Passharanack, Pocopassum, Segotago, Taughtanakagnet, Wakcogo, Warbigganus, Wawrigweck

Other indigenous toponyms recorded in Maine:
Damerils Iles, Monanis (near Monhegan), Nusconcus (Muscongus), Satquin (Seguin), Sorico (Isle au Haut)

Untitled map of New England (1677).
Manuscript, 55 × 66 cm
John Carter Brown Library
Brown University,  Providence, R.I.

Why Maine Was Part of Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Bay colony construed its territory as expansively as possible. Its original 1629 charter loosely defined its boundaries as lying three miles north of the Merrimac river and south of the Charles river, but it was realized as early as 1633 that both rivers made significant turns to the north and south [4].

In the early 1650s, Massachusetts Bay laid claim to valuable timber lands far to the north of the Merrimac. It justified its claims by sending an expedition to the outflow of Lake Winnipesaukee, the northernmost point on the Merrimac, in 1652 to determine its latitude. Adding a small increment for the three-mile buffer gave a parallel of latitude that the colony took for its northern boundary, which in 1653 was found to cut the coast at Casco Bay and the mouth of the Kennebec. The colony and later state therefore claimed Maine as its Eastern District until separation and statehood was granted in 1820.

The Massachusetts Bay authorities demonstrated the validity of its territorial claims in an official map made in 1676; item 4 is a copy of that map, made by an English bureaucrat in 1678.

A copy of the same map would soon be used as the foundation for Hubbard’s printed map of New England [5].

William Hubbard
New-England, cut by John Foster, from Hubbard’s A Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New- England, from the First Planting Thereof in the Year 1607, to This Present Year 1677(Boston, 1677).

Woodcut, 30 × 38 cm
Osher Collection

Enlarged detail from Hubbard’s New-England (item 5)